Children and Frogs and Pillows, Oh My!
By Susan Nyberg and Julius Ariail
Posted January 31, 2014

Middle school children in Winchester, VA, with one of the frog pillows they made for hospitalized Dominican children. Click this image to see more photographs from this ministry.

Children in a Dominican hospital with their frog pillows from Virginia. Click this image to see more photographs from this ministry.

Thanks to the imagination, enthusiasm, and perseverance of six middle school students at the Independent School of Winchester, Virginia, ( during the 2012-2013 school year, 40 children in pediatric hospitals in the Dominican Republic received gifts of colorful, hand-crafted frog pillows to cheer them up during their hospital stays. Looking for a Dominican mission outreach project that can be accomplished without the need to go to the Dominican Republic in person? Check out the details of this project and see if it could be replicated in your church or organization.

This frog pillow project began in November 2012 when a group of middle school students in Winchester, Virginia, was trying to decide what sort of activity they would undertake to fulfill the requirements of their school’s “Destination Imagination” assignment. This activity was to be some sort of a community service project that the students chose themselves, and the entire process had to be documented as they went along. They also had to submit a documentary report of their work in March 2013 to be evaluated as part of a competition between other student groups who were engaged in the same sort of activity.

These six students settled on two concepts: 1) their project should have an international outreach; 2) it should be focused on women or children. One of the students had taken part in a mission trip to the Dominican Republic, and commented that Dominican children often play with handmade toys made from discarded materials like plastic drink bottles or bicycle wheels. The team started brainstorming about making a toy or other handcrafted item that children might enjoy.

Another teacher, Rebecca Gibson, who had been part of that earlier mission trip, came to the class and spoke about the needs of Dominican children and also about methods of distributing donated items through coordination with the Episcopal Diocese of the Dominican Republic in Santo Domingo. A colleague of Rebecca’s is Karen Carroll, a missionary from the United States who works on the staff of the Bishop of the Dominican Republic. Karen is in charge of coordinating the work of mission teams and with projects such as this in which large amounts of items are donated and shipped to the Dominican Republic for eventual distribution to their intended recipients.

The Simplicity pattern for the pillows.

After examining several options for hand-crafting items, the middle schoolers in Winchester decided to make pillows and located a pillow pattern (Simplicity # 2197) that had options for a design that could be customized as a frog, monkey, bee – or even a ladybug. They named their team “12 Hands for the World” and created a Facebook page as part of the documentation for their project. They also wrote letters to friends and family members, asking for donations to fund the cost of supplies and shipping the finished pillows to the Dominican Republic. The group estimated that the cost of making and shipping each pillow would be $15 and they set a goal of raising enough money for 20 pillows. However, their letters raised almost US$600, enough to pay for materials and shipping costs for 40 pillows.

Writing the fundraising letters for the project. Click this image to see more photographs from this ministry.

Making the pillows. Click this image to see more photographs from this ministry.

The first set of 20 pillows was completed by January 26, 2013, and was shipped to Santo Domingo to the Dominican diocesan office. By February 25, the pillows had arrived and Karen had distributed them to hospitalized children. Karen sent back photographs from the hospital and also this message to the Winchester students, excerpted below:

Let me tell you my experience with the precious pillow project. After opening the boxes in the Diocesan office and showing them all around – there were so many priests who cuddled them and wanted to take them home – we went to the Bishop’s office where we got a great picture of him. Then we had our adventure in the Children’s Hospital.

A Dominican child with her new pillow. Click this image to see more photographs from this ministry.

I had never been there before and was bracing myself…. My career was working in a state of the art children’s hospital for 38 years. Since we only had the 20 pillows we went to the Social Services office for help in direction…. She routed us to the cardiac unit that was divided into girls and boys. There were no pillows for the children and the first young boy quickly discarded his balled up jeans that he was using for a pillow and used the frog (he was so happy). Most of the other children were very young, but all the mothers wanted a frog and we received many thanks and hugs….

After visiting there I have decided to return to volunteer on a regular basis. It really felt like I should be there to help and it all happened because of the frogs…. Your frog project just touched the lives of 20 children, their families, and one American missionary. Thank you, thank you.

A Dominican child with his new pillow. Click this image to see more photographs from this ministry.

This project also emotionally moved the project’s adult mentor, Susan Nyberg, who commented as follows: When the students and teachers saw the pictures of the children with the pillows and read Karen’s letter, the venture became more than just a Destination Imagination project. We realized that this was something bigger. The students saw that their work was making a direct impact on the lives of underprivileged children.

One of the frog pillows with a prize ribbon. Click this image to see more photographs from this ministry.

The “12 Hands” team was the subject of an article in the Winchester Star, the local newspaper, on March 8, 2013. On March 12, the team members were awarded Third Prize in their school’s “Destination Imagination” competition, and received these notes from the judges:

I could tell that you all were very moved by the contribution you made to the kids of the DR – such empathy!

The stuffed frogs were so cute! What a great gift for the kids of the Dominican Republic. You all may have a future in toy design – and film-making.

The group continued to make pillows after their school project had officially concluded, shipping another set of 20 to the Dominican diocesan office in July 2013. This second shipment of pillows was also distributed to children in the pediatric hospital, and photographs of the recipients came back to Winchester to be posted on the “12 Hands” Facebook page for all to see.

If you are interested in participating in a Dominican mission project such as this pillow activity, please contact Susan Nyberg at the Independent School of Winchester (; Karen Carroll at the Dominican diocesan office (; or Bill Kunkle, executive director of the Dominican Development Group ( or 813-400-2722). Please note that no large shipments of items to the Dominican diocesan office should be initiated without prior arrangements with Karen. The Dominican Development Group ( has experience in coordinating the work of mission teams engaged in complex projects, and stands ready to assist projects like this.